Bulgarian wrestling coach and two-time Olympic champion Armen Nazaryan has started a hunger strike to protest the sport being dumped from the 2020 Olympics, the country’s wrestling federation said yesterday.
“The two times Olympic champion will not eat until the start of the European Championship on March 22 in Tbilisi, Georgia ... and will only take juices,” a statement said.
“Wrestling has always been on the Olympics program and it is not right to take it out. I sincerely hope that my action will convince the IOC [International Olympic Committee] to review its decision,” Nazaryan said in the statement.
The IOC executive panel decided last month to exclude wrestling from the 2020 Games program, prompting protests from other figures in the sport as well as creating an unlikely common cause for geopolitical foes Iran and the US.
Nazaryan, 38, was born in Masis, Armenia, and was an Olympic champion for Armenia in the Greco-Roman style at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
After switching allegiance, he also won gold and bronze for Bulgaria at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and the 2004 Athens Games.
He is currently chief coach of Bulgaria’s Greco-Roman wrestling team.
Bulgaria’s women wrestling coach — two time World and four time European freestyle champion Serafim Barzakov — was also ready to go on hunger strike to support Nazaryan, the federation said.
Wrestling has been Bulgaria’s most successful Olympic sport with its athletes winning a total of 16 titles.
The Balkan country’s wrestling federation chief Valentin Yordanov has already protested the IOC’s decision to remove the ancient sport from the 2020 Olympic schedule by returning his 1996 Olympic gold medal to IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Additional reporting by Staff writer